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Adobe Photoshop CS5 : The Essential Adjustments: White Balance

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7/2/2012 3:32:28 PM
If you’ve ever taken a photo indoors, chances are the photo came out with kind of a yellowish tint. Unless you took the shot in an office, and then it probably had a green tint. If you just took a shot of somebody in the shade, the photo probably had a blue tint. Those are white balance problems, and if we properly set our white balance in the camera, we won’t see these color problems (the photos will just look normal), but since most of us shoot with our cameras set to Auto White Balance, we’re going to run into them. Luckily, we can fix them pretty easily.

Step One.
Adjusting the white balance is usually the very first thing I adjust in my own Camera Raw workflow, because getting the white balance right will eliminate 99% of your color problems right off the bat. At the top of the Basic panel (on the right side of the Camera Raw window), are the White Balance controls. If you look to the right of the words “White Balance,” you’ll see a pop-up menu (shown circled here in red), and by default it shows you the “As Shot” white balance (you’re seeing the white balance you had set in your camera when you took the shot). For this shot, I had my white balance set to Auto for shooting outdoors, and then I walked into a hotel lobby where I took this shot, and that’s why the white balance is way, way off.

Step Two.
There are three ways to change the white balance in your photo, and the first is to simply choose one of the built-in White Balance presets. Fairly often, that’s all you need to do to color correct your image. Just click on the White Balance pop-up menu, and you’ll see a list of white balance settings you could have chosen in the camera. Just choose the preset that most closely matches what the lighting situation was when you originally took the photo (for example, if you took the shot in the shade of a tree, you’d choose the Shade preset). Here I tried each preset and Auto seemed to look best—it removed the yellowish tint. I also tried Tungsten, which looked pretty good, as well. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to try each preset and simply choose the one that looks best to you. (Note: This is the one main area where the processing of RAW and JPEG or TIFF images differs. You’ll only get this full list of white balance presets with RAW images. With JPEGs or TIFFs, your only choice is As Shot or Auto white balance.)

Step Three.
The second method is to use the Temperature and Tint sliders (found right below the White Balance preset menu). The bars behind the sliders are color coded so you can see which way to drag to get which kind of color tint. What I like to do is use the built-in presets to get close (as a starting point), and then if my color is just a little too blue or too yellow, I drag in the opposite direction. So, in this example, the Auto preset was close, but made it a little too blue, so I dragged the Temperature slider a little bit toward yellow and the Tint slider toward magenta to brighten the reds (as shown here).

Step Four.
Just a couple of other quick things about manually setting your white balance using the Temperature and Tint sliders: If you move a slider and decide you didn’t want to move it after all, just double-click directly on the little slider “nub” itself, and it will reset to its previous location. By the way, I generally just adjust the Temperature slider, and rarely have to touch the Tint slider. Also, to reset the white balance to where it was when you opened the image, just choose As Shot from the White Balance pop-up menu (as seen here).

Step Five.
The third method is my personal favorite, and the method I use the most often, and that is setting the white balance using the White Balance tool (I). This is perhaps the most accurate because it takes a white balance reading from the photo itself. You just click on the White Balance tool in the toolbar at the top left (it’s circled in red here), and then click it on something in your photo that’s supposed to be a light gray (that’s right—you properly set the white balance by clicking on something that’s light gray). So, take the tool and click it once on a light shadow area on the glass in the back door (as shown here) and it sets the white balance for you. If you don’t like how it looks, then just click on a different light gray area.

Tip: Quick White Balance Reset

To quickly reset your white balance to the As Shot setting, just double-click on the White Balance tool up in the toolbar.

Step Six.
Now, here’s the thing: although this can give you a perfectly accurate white balance, it doesn’t mean that it will look good. White balance is a creative decision, and the most important thing is that your photo looks good to you. So don’t get caught up in that “I don’t like the way the white balance looks, but I know it’s accurate” thing that sucks some people in—set your white balance so it looks right to you. You are the bottom line. You’re the photographer. It’s your photo, so make it look its best. Accurate is not another word for good. By the way, you can just Right-click on your image to access the White Balance pop-up menu (as shown here).

Step Seven.
Here’s a before/after so you can see what a difference setting a proper white balance makes (by the way, you can see a quick before/after of your white balance edit by pressing the letter P on your keyboard to toggle the Preview on/off).

Before: The As Shot white balance has a yellowish tint

After: With one click of the White Balance tool, everything comes together

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